Sam opened his eyes, and realized that his nose was buried in a mass of curly hair and his arms were wrapped around a sleeping hobbitlass. Again! He stifled a groan and tried to extricate himself, freezing when he realized that there was someone else lying up against his back. Another lass, by the location of the bumpy bits.
This was getting downright dangerous. And exhausting, come to think of it. He'd scarcely had a full night's sleep since he'd come away from Hobbiton, and he was working hard by day, planting all those trees. But how was he to get any rest with the lasses coming by his camp at night, asking for tales of distant lands and leaning closer and closer until their breath was warm on his face and other things were a good bit warmer between his legs.
He'd tried saying no. He'd tried working himself into a stupor. He'd tried wading into a stream and that was the most ninnyhammered idea he'd ever had in his life, but the water hadn't been cold enough even in January. Last night he'd tried seeing if he could get too drunk to respond.
He sighed and crossed that idea off his list. It only made things more complicated, in the end, and interfered a good bit with trying to remember her… their names. The dark haired one was … Peony, that was it, and the other was Crocus. No, not Crocus. Cr… Cr…
"Chrysanthemum," he said out loud, and she opened her eyes and bestowed a smile on him that told him he'd done very well for a drunken hobbit.
"That's not what you called me last night," she said with great satisfaction.
"No it's not," Peony chimed in sleepily, sliding her hand around to stroke the hair on Sam's chest. "So who's Rosie then?"
Sam felt the blush rising from his toes. "Rose Cotton," he said. "Of Bywater. And I'd purely appreciate it if you ladies didn't…"
They both giggled helplessly, but Chrysanthemum recovered first. "Didn't what? Tell her that we waylaid you in the tavern and dragged you off to seduce you?"
"Something like that," Sam said, beginning to remember bits and pieces of the previous night. "Not that she and I have an understanding, mind," he hastened to explain. "For if we did, I should hope I would have told you ladies 'no' and meant it. But I hope to speak to her, when the job's finished."
"Well she's a lucky girl then," Peony said, kissing him chastely on the ear and sitting up to stretch. "Come on, Chrys, we got what we came for – and then some! Time to get on home."
"I suppose so," Chrysanthemum groaned. "Not that it wasn't lovely," she told Sam, bestowing her own kiss on his nose. "But the sun's rising and we've got two cows in milk."
The three hobbits untangled themselves and then set about finding their clothing. Sam, uncertain of how to proceed, but comforted by the way the two lasses were humming in harmony, got himself dressed and found the nerve to ask what he was wondering. "Why me? I mean, you're not the kind of lasses I'd expect to… well, hang about taverns all the time, if you see what I mean."
"Only if young Tim Featherfoot is in," Chrysanthemum said in a teasing tone, and Peony blushed and gave her a friendly shove.
"Well, maybe he'll find his voice now," she countered. "And about time if he did."
"But if you have a lad…" Sam exclaimed, worrying that he'd trespassed.
"I wish I did!" Peony said. "But he's like you – tongue tied."
"And not nearly so…" Chrysanthemum gave Sam a considering once-over. "So Elvish."
"Me? Elvish?" Sam said. Even Frodo didn't seem quite so Elvish once you'd met the real thing. "I'm as plain as brown bread!"
The girls shook their heads. "Then those foreign places rubbed off on you, or something," Peony said. "I took one look at you yesterday when you were digging and I just wanted you."
"More than anything," Chrysanthemum said, her eyes fond. "Good thing we're friends." They exchanged a look that Sam knew he would never understand. "And its not like any of the lads around here have been any use since the trouble began." She sniffed. "Not that I've been any use to the lads. I just haven't felt like it. Not till you came."
"There's been no one like you come to the village in forever," Peony said. Then she cocked her head. "Why did you come, anyway? And why did the message say not to plant the saplings ourselves?"
Sam found his coat and took out Galadriel's box. "Because of this," he said, opening it carefully. He closed it again once they'd seen, to keep the fine dust from blowing about. "The Lady of Lothlorien gave it to me. She's an Elf, and more beautiful than the morning. And she put a blessing on it, she said, so that if I ever came home and even if all was laid to waste I could put it on my garden and the flowers would still bloom."
He swallowed, then, and folded his hands around the box, remembering the ravaged garden of Bag End and the sandpit that had replaced his father's tater patch. "But there was so many trees cut down when we come home, I thought as how the Shire should bloom and not just one little garden. So I'm putting a bit at the root of each tree as we plant it." He met their eyes again, "It might not work when it's spread so thin. I mean, the trees might be the better for it, but we won't know straight away. The magic of the Three Rings is fading now."
"I don't think it's faded much," Peony said, with a sudden stillness and one hand laid thoughtfully over her skirtfront. "And I best go talk to Tim, if he won't talk to me."
"Cows, cows, got to milk the cows," Chrysanthemum chanted, with her eyes closed and her fists clenched. Sam looked from one lass to the other in bewilderment.
"Don't you see?" Peony took a step back, not as if she were frightened, but as if she needed the distance. "That's it. That's why."
"Cows, milk the cows…" Chrysanthemum fled, waving a hand at him before covering her blushing face with it. Peony took another step away.
"That's why?" Sam echoed. He could feel the warmth rising in him, but it was possible in the morning light to resist what he hadn't been able to resist before. Especially since she was still backing away. He stood motionless, Galadriel's box still solid and warm in his hands. When she had reached the edge of the road she stopped.
"That's why we wanted you. That's why I wanted you. I wanted to feel again. I wanted to know that it would be worth the effort to stop being numb." She smiled, suddenly as beautiful as any Elf-maiden. "You're walking around with a pocketful of dust that makes things fertile again, Samwise Gamgee, and I'm going to go and find my Tim and do a little planting while the ground's fresh plowed!"